Esther Turnbull was a wonderful teacher

Most of you will have paid little attention to a modest obituary in the paper this week. Having lived to the grand old age of 95, my former teacher, Mrs. Esther Turnbull has passed away.

Most of you will have paid little attention to a modest obituary in the paper this week.

Having lived to the grand old age of 95, my former teacher, Mrs. Esther Turnbull has passed away. For me, and many others I’m sure, her legacy will continue for some time to come.

Mrs. Turnbull taught me for three years in the southwest corner of Lousana Consolidated School, and in those three years she instilled within me a lifetime of values.

Mrs. Turnbull took over the melding of little minds in the fourth grade, after the formidable Mrs. Elsie Berg had drilled into us the ability to read and write and add and subtract, and then some. (Someday we’ll get into the legacy of Mrs. Berg, but suffice it to say that if you weren’t versed beyond your years at the three “R’s after Mrs. Berg, it’s likely that you were literally incapable of learning.)

There were great lessons to be learned in Mrs. Turnbull’s classroom, and I doubt that many of these lessons are taught well in any of today’s politically correct teaching environments.

Literature was a staple of Mrs. Turnbull’s classroom. One corner of the room comprised of simple bookshelves groaning under the weight of dog-eared encyclopedias, fading National Geographics and scores of books aimed for readers our age and much beyond.

For several years, a staple in Mrs. Turnbull’s classroom was a mid-winter book interlude. In one-hour blocks, she would read aloud to us a selected book from start to finish. In that manner, I “read” Jack London’s Call of the Wild, Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper and the autobiography of Will Rogers.

Aside from the story, Mrs. Turnbull was able to use that time to help us grasp the nuances of the English language, by illustrating and explaining subtleties of inflection and dialect.

By instilling in us an appreciation for the written word, Mrs. Turnbull was than able to teach us other powerful, social lessons.

In her classroom, we learned the costs and the value of freedom and liberty.

We were taught the importance of standing up for what you believe in. There is no one beyond her that can lay claim to my own deep beliefs in the importance and supremacy of individual liberty.

Having learned to read under the firm (Did I say firm? Firm as in granite, maybe…) guidance of Mrs. Berg, every student of Mrs. Turnbull learned the skill of standing in front of a class and reading aloud with skill and alacrity. (She’ll be proud I used that word. If you don’t know what it means, well, I can’t help it that you didn’t have her for a teacher.)

She taught us how to communicate, and how the written word was one of the most powerful tools we’ll ever get to use in our lives.

She taught us how to think, to analyze, to examine critically. While she ruled her classroom firmly, debate was encouraged and accepted. Points were given and taken.

Upon exiting a three year stint under the tutelage of Esther Turnbull, and bursting into junior high school and adolescence, it was expected that you could read, write, and comprehend at a high school level.

As it is, and as it was, much of what was learned in those three years was never fully appreciated until years later.

In high school, while wholly unable to differentiate a dangling participle from a subjugated verb, all – and I mean all –of her former students could stand up in English 10 and read Shakespeare, skillfully conveying the humour, satire, and wit of the great bard, at a level that should have embarrassed some of our peers who had been recipients of so-called “better” educations.

The smug satisfaction of that gives way later on to the gratitude that comes from knowing that having been taught to skillfully communicate pays dividends in other areas of life. Knowing where you learned it and who taught you is a nice little bonus.

There are probably less than 100 of us left that spent three years under the wing of Mrs. Turnbull and we all bump into our Mrs. Turnbull lessons in different ways.

For me, it often comes at the keyboard, on the rare occasion that I manage to adroitly arrange a phrase in a manner that befits my great teacher’s efforts, or when the manifestations of the nanny state inflame my libertarian sensibilities.

There’s a greater lesson here, as well. In the end, it is the teacher and not the books or the computers or all the other resources that will teach the child.

Mrs. Turnbull taught me that.

Bill Greenwood is a local freelance columnist.